The Stages of the Self on its Journey to Realisation and Beyond
The Seven Deadly Sins
two articles - one by Murshid F.A. Ali ElSenossi and one from the
modern view of vice as a psychological disease, arising from the environment
and circumstances, to be treated by therapy, are followed below by two
articles examining the question from traditional points of view.
The Seven Deadly Sins in the Light of the Symbolism of Number
In the series of single figure numbers there are two that stand out from
the rest as having an essentially divine significance, namely one and
seven; between them, as between alpha and omega, is enacted the whole
drama of existence. One
is the Creator; two signifies the spirit,
three heaven, four earth, and five man, whose
place is as a quintessence at the center of the four elements, the four
points of the compass, and the four seasons of the year, which characterize
the earthly state. But
man cannot fulfill his function as mediator between heaven and earth
without the transcendent dimension of depth and of height and the vertical
axis that passes through the center of all the degrees of existence,
which is none other than the tree of life.
This superhuman dimension is implicit in the central point of
the quintessence but does not become explicit until the number five
is transcended. It is through
six that the center becomes the axis, that the seed becomes the tree,
and six is the number of primordial man in the state in which he was
created on the sixth day. As
he measures out, with his six directions, the whole of existence; and
beyond six lies that from which existence proceeds and to which it returns.
"He it is who created the heavens and the earth in six days,
and is established on the throne of His almightiness. He knows all that enters the earth and all that comes out of
it, as well as all that descends from the skies and all that ascends
to them. And He is with
you wherever you may be; and God sees all that you do.”
Holy Quran 57:4 *
thus signifies repose in the divine centre.
From that point of view it is the symbol of absolute finality
and perfection, appearing in this world as a divine seal upon earthly
things, as in the number of the days of the week, the planets, the sacraments
of the church, and many other septenaries the mention of which would
take us too far from our subject.
But despite these considerations, or rather because of them,
there is, as we shall see, a profound reason why the deadly sins should
be seven in number.
In quest of the key to this paradox, the first thing to be remembered is the
underlying continuity that exists between Edenic man and fallen man.
At the fall there was no new creation; virtually man is still a
If he were not, there would be no nostalgia in his soul, and the
first human perfection, instead of being a norm and an ideal, would be out
of reach and as it were alien.
But in fact it has never been superseded, whence the doctrine of
original sin, which is itself an affirmation of the continuity we are
Moreover, a doctrine of sin means a doctrine of atonement: Where
there is a question, not of irrecoverable loss, but of dormancy and
perversion in the soul, there can be reawakening and reintegration.
This reversible continuity between primal norm and present fact
means that however prone to guilt certain powers of the soul may have
become, they were originally innocent.
We must remember also in this connection the axiom corruptio
optimi pessima, the best when corrupted becomes the worst; and if it
be asked, "What is the worst?' we may answer, with regard to the
human soul, "The seven deadly sins”.
At any rate, these sins may be taken as landmarks
in the domain of
that is most evil; and the three words seven deadly sins in a sense
"add up" to corruptio optimi pessima, for the number
seven betrays the mysterious presence of an optimum in the context of
deadly sin, pessima corruptio.
Here also lies the key to the paradox of the correspondence of the
deadly sins to the planets, including the luminaries.
Taking them in their traditional order, superbia (pride) is
related to the Sun, avaritia (avarice) to Saturn, luxuria
(lust) to Venus, invidia (envy) to Mercury, gula (gluttony)
to Jupiter, ira (anger) to Mars, and accidia (sloth) to the
Moon. It would be wrong,
however, and even sacrilegious, to invert this manner of expression and to
say that sins are actually represented by these celestial bodies after
which, in virtue of their exaltation and luminosity, the very heavens
themselves are named. All
that can be said is that the planets are symbols of what is
"best" in the soul; and when these optima are corrupted,
they still continue to be related to the planets, just as they still
continue to bear the seal of seven. In
other words, those psychic powers or tendencies that have become the
vehicles of deadly sin were numbered before the fall, when they held in
the soul a place analogous to that of the planets in the firmament.
Seven may thus be considered as a mark of identity used by a
shepherd that it may continue to show, when a sheep has strayed, the fold
to which it rightly belongs and to which it may be brought back.
considering how it is possible for the "sheep" to stray so far,
let us begin with a fact about one of the sins that is generally known but
seldom weighed and that is not without its implications as regards other
sins. A feature that all
religions have in common is the concept of anger as an unholy rupture of
equilibrium side by side with the concept of holy anger, which is
exemplified in Christianity by Christ's driving out the merchants from the
temple and of which the sin itself
seems like a parody.
Analogously, although the term ”holy avarice" is not used, could it not be said
that a miser is a caricature of an ascetic and in rare cases perhaps even
potentially an ascetic? The traditional representation of a miser as
a half-starved man dressed in rags and carrying a bag of gold would have
an altogether different meaning if the gold were to be taken symbolically
and not literally. Some misers have been known to endure what would
be described, in the case of a saint, as "heroic deprivations”.
But since "acts are according to intentions”, the two
"poverties" are as remote from each other as hell is from
heaven. Nonetheless, for with God all things are possible, if a
great spiritual master were to take a miser and turn him into a saint, the
avarice, though necessarily rejected, would not have to undergo an
absolute rejection; but the word "turn" is used here advisedly,
for the tendency in question would need to be completely reorientated.
Thinking along parallel lines, could not something analogous be said of
the sin of lust, for example? And in connection with another deadly
sin, we may remember the words of the Decalogue: "I the Lord thy God
am a jealous God”. Not that "jealous," as used here, is
a synonym of "envious," but the two may be said to have a common
root, namely the refusal to accept that another should have or be given
something that one feels should come to oneself. Similarly, as
regards the worst sin of all, it is significant that in Islam one of the
ninety-nine divine names is "the Proud”. The Koran uses
exactly the same word to glorify God as to condemn Pharaoh; and if God is
Proud, then pride must also be an aspect of human perfection, made in His
image. We have here a virtue and a vice that bear the same name even
though they lie at opposite poles of human possibility; and the truth corruptio
optimi pessima stands as a bridge across the gulf that appears to
separate them. It remains to be seen how
it is possible for this bridge to be crossed, both by way of corruption
and also, from the other side, by the path of redemption.
As regards corruption, we may take our key from the symbolism of another
number traditionally associated with the deadly sins, that is, the number
for if seven denotes simply the best, eight in its positive sense
denotes the precise degree that this particular best, the best of the
corruptibles, holds in the universal hierarchy.
In his article on the symbolism of the octagon Guenon mentions that
in sacred architecture an octagonal structure often serves as support for
a dome, thus marking the transition from the square foundation to the
circular summit, that is, from the terrestrial number four to the
celestial number nine.
In other words, eight denotes the intermediary region between earth
and heaven or, microcosmically, between body and spirit; and the octagon
supporting the dome is particularly relevant here as a symbol of that
"best" part of psychic substance that is the vehicle of
spiritual light symbolized by the dome itself.
This octagon has in fact a triple symbolism, for not only is it a
vehicle of the dome but also, by being immediately adjacent to it, it
expresses the nearness to heaven of the psychic elements
in question, and by being almost circular in form it expresses their all
but spiritual nature. Moreover,
eight is the number of the winds, which signify the inspirations that it
is the function of these elements to receive.
But being of the soul, not of the spirit, these relative summits
are by definition corruptible; and not only has the devil access to them
but it is here above all that he intervenes,
for he can do no far-reaching harm to a human soul unless he can first
pervert one or more of its highest elements, which otherwise, continuing
to fulfill their intuitive function, will remain like vigilant sentinels,
ever ready to give the alert. It
was certainly not to any lower faculties that Satan's original temptation
was addressed, but rather to those that constitute man's leanings toward
the next world, his hopes of immortality, his longings for the
untransitory. This is brought out clearly in the Koranic account of the
fall (20:120): "Then Satan whispered unto him,
and said:'0 Adam, shall I show thee the Tree of Immortality and a kingdom
that fadeth not away?’ “
Let us quote also the following comment on this:
his deception of mankind throughout the ages
is summed up in the above verse; he ceaselessly promises to show man the
Tree of Immortality, gradually reducing by this means the highest and most
central faculties into the outer part of the soul so that he may imprison
them there in attachment to the counterfeit objects which he has forged
for their perception. It is
the presence here of these perverted faculties, either in
discontent that they can never find real satisfaction, or finally in a
state of atrophy in that they are never put to their proper use, which
causes all the disorder and obstruction in the soul of the fallen man.
take particular examples, it could be said that the sin of gluttony is
caused by the erring presence, in the outer or lower part of the soul,
that part that is nearest the senses, of a perverted psychic element whose
rightful place is at the threshold of heaven and whose normal function is
to represent, for the individual in question, what might be termed the
sense of the infinite. True
to its nature, it looks for infinite satisfaction in the domain of the
finite. A similar erring
presence can be said to lie at the roots of the sin of lust.
On the other hand, the "static" or "contractive" sins of
sloth and avarice can be traced to a perverted sense of eternity.
The one is the attempt to realize eternal peace in a domain that is
divinely willed to be in a state of movement and vicissitude. The other is the attempt to keep eternally that which is, by
its very nature, ephemeral; it is also the blindness of attributing to
"treasure upon earth" the absolute value that belongs only to
"treasure in heaven”.
and infinity are dimensions of the Absolute, and the perverted sense of
the Absolute, either directly or through one or other of these dimensions,
may be said to lie at the root of all deadly sin.
It is "reverberation" of the Absolute, however remotely,
that alone can account for the monstrousness of the semi-insane
exaggerations in question.
sin of anger presupposes as much lack of sense of proportion as avarice
does, though in an altogether different mode; either could be described as
the "absolute" effect of a relative cause.
But avarice is the deification of a material object, whereas anger,
like the sins of envy and pride, implies a certain deification of the ego,
its endowments with rights that belong only to the Absolute, that is, to
the Supreme Self. But at the
summit of the soul of the saint
there are necessarily elements of sublime "thunder and
lightning," just as there are necessarily elements that may be said
to participate in the divine jealousy, inasmuch as they
"begrudge," through their discernment, the attribution of any
absolute value to other than the self.
Similarly, having realized the answer to the question "Who am
the saint cannot fail to participate in the divine pride, which will be
reflected in the outer part of the soul, not as the sin of pride, but as
the virtue of dignity and sometimes even of majesty.
intuitive part of the psychic substance, the part through which the soul
may be said to have the sense of the Absolute, the Infinite, and the
Eternal, can be fully operative only if all its elements are in their
rightful place. The soul of the saint is perfect order and harmony; fallen
souls are in a state of disorder that varies incalculably from individual
to individual. Needless to
say, it is possible that part of the higher substance should remain
relatively unfallen. Otherwise
there could be no initial otherworldly aspirations, and the individual in
question could never become a novice for the spiritual path.
But as to those elements that are disintegrated and fallen, in that
soul as in other souls, their chaos is caused by the higher elements being
buried beneath the lower ones or, which amounts to the same, by the inner
elements having strayed into the outer part of the psychic substance,
where they cause perversion or obstruction according to whether they are
virulent or dormant.
In connection with the widespread dormancy of psychic elements, it is
particularly ironical that the notion of sincerity - or rather the word,
for it is scarcely more than that - should loom so large in
twentieth-century complacence, for sincerity, which implies an integral
vigilance, is just what modern man most lacks.
The often heard words "sincerity is all that matters"
express, if duly weighed, a profound truth; but it is nearly always
forgotten that sincerity cannot be assessed without reference to what one
is sincere about. In other
words, the quality of the subjective reaction is inextricably dependent on
the quality of the object. To
take particular examples, it is really no less than a contradiction in
terms to speak of a "sincere humanist" or a “sincere
communist” if the word "sincere" is to retain its sense of
"total dedication”. Enthusiasm,
everyone now knows, is no guarantee that the subject is sincere.
This century, especially in its second half, is witnessing without
respite the most violent orgies of enthusiasm, and as often as not the
object is so worthless that the "enthusiast" can be no more than
a small fraction of a soul, a fraction that has, perhaps momentarily,
declared itself independent of reason, memory, and other faculties. Such cases may not be too dangerous in themselves, but they
are alarmingly symptomatic of a widespread psychic disintegration.
To revert to less paroxysmal but much more chronic and therefore
more dangerous enthusiasms of the humanist and the communist, we have only
to consider what man is to see that neither humanism nor communism has
anything whatsoever to offer to the higher reaches of the human soul.
If such an enthusiasm is nonetheless able to gain a lifelong grip
of any given individual, it can do so only without the assent of his
higher psychic elements; and the negative presence of these elements in
his soul, whether they be dormant or atrophied, precludes all questions of
sincerity. It may be objected
that in some cases the elements in question are perverted without being
dormant and that the soul can be something of a chaos but nonetheless
"all there" and therefore sincere; and there can be no doubt, as
regards the two enthusiasms in question, that they are able to gain their
formidable impetus only by drawing, to a considerable extent, on the
soul's latent treasuries of idle and unused spiritual fervor.
But such thefts can never be total; perversion is always
fragmentary. Fervor is, in
its highest sense, no less than the thirst for the Absolute, the Infinite,
and the Eternal, and there can be no common measure between the psychic
vehicles of this fervor when in their
rightful place at the summit of a normal soul and a mere fraction of them
that has been perverted and dangerously bottled up as part of an
enthusiasm for some finite and ephemeral object.
religious orthodoxy at its fullest - that is, when endowed with the full
range of its third dimension of mysticism - is large enough to engage the
whole psychic substance of man and coordinate it into a sincerity worthy
of the name. The truth is
indivisible totality and demands of man that he shall be no less than one
undivided whole; and it is a criterion of orthodoxy that it should stake a
claim in every element of our being.
But how does mysticism bring about the inverse of corruptio optimi pessima,
that inverse that is expressed by "The stone which the builders
rejected is become the head of the corner"
and also by "Joy shall be in Heaven over one sinner that repenteth
more than over ninety and nine just
persons which need no repentance"?
The first phase of the spiritual alchemy of repentance is "the
descent into hell," so called because it is first necessary to
penetrate into the depths of the soul in order to regain consciousness of
the "worst” which by "repenting" is to become once more
the best. In this connection
some reference to psychoanalysis is no doubt opportune, and the author may
perhaps be excused for simply repeating here what he has already
formulated in a similar context elsewhere:
The modern development of psychoanalysis makes it necessary to explain
that this first phase of the mystic path is radically different from any
psychoanalytical descent into the subconscious.
Psychoanalysis is largely a case of the blind leading the blind,
for it is simply one soul working upon another without the help of any
transcendent power. But
initiation, followed up by the devotional and ascetic practices implicit
in it, opens the door to contact with the perfecting and unifying power of
the Spirit whose presence demands that the psychic substance shall become
once again a single whole. The
more or less scattered elements of this substance are thus compelled to
come together; and some of them come in anger, from dark and remote hiding
places, with the infernal powers still attached to them.
From this point of view it is truer to say that Hell rises than
that the mystic descends; and that the result of this rising is a battle,
with the soul as battlefield.
the outset of the path the perverted psychic elements are more or less
dormant and remote from the centre of consciousness.
They must first of all be woken, and then redeemed, for they cannot
be purified in their sleep; and it is when they wake in a state of raging
perversion that there is always the risk that they will overpower
the whole soul.
The first phase of purification is rejection.
The battle is fought in order to rout and put to flight those
elements that have become the soul's lowest possibilities, for it is only
through banishment and exile that they can be cut off and isolated from
the relativities to which they have become all too absolutely attached and
disencumbered from the false associations which have stunted
them and warped them. Rejection
is thus ultimately a liberation.
The rejected "stones" have then to be reminded of their true nature
and brought back in honor through "the gates of righteousness”.
This phase of love and recall may be said to follow that of fear
and rejection, for "fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom";
but the two phases are partly simultaneous in the alchemy of purification,
for love means consciousness of the bonds of the Absolute, and it is
above all this consciousness that has power to loosen the bonds of relativity.
The spirit, vehicled by the rites, may be said to address the
soul's fallen elements with exactly the same message as that which originally
seduced them; but this time the message is true, and a true message
is infinitely more powerful than a false one: "O Adam, shall I
show thee the Tree of Immortality and a Kingdom that fadeth not away?”
By the implacable rhythmic regularity of the performance of rites,
which is an essential feature of the spiritual path, this promise of
the transcendent is "drummed" ceaselessly into the soul; and
since the elements chiefly concerned, those that were made for nothing
but the transcendent, are merely being asked to conform to their own
true nature, this promise is bound to prove, sooner or later, irresistible
- whence the exaltation, by spiritual masters in all ages and in all
religions, of the virtues of perseverance, patience, and reliance.
That is, according to the
Islamic conception, as the summit and synthesis of all creation, opening
to the Uncreated and therefore possessing, implicitly, if not explicitly,
the Uncreated Aspect that is none other than the Third Person of the
Christian Trinity. According
to Shaikh al-Alawi, in his treatise on the symbolism of the letters
of the alphabet, the letter ba, which has the numerical value of two,
is a symbol of the spirit. See
A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century (University of California Press
1972), Chap. 7.
This applies not only to
three in itself, but also to its intensification three times three, nine
being in some respects the most celestial of all numbers.
In Arabic the letter waw and
in Hebrew the letter waw both have the numerical value of six, and each
constitutes, in its respective language, the linguistic mediator, namely
the word "and”.
The original article had the Biblical quotation:
"And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it, because
that in it He had rested from all his work."
This reserve is perhaps necessary because the septenary in question appears to
be arbitrarily incomplete, unless we take some of the specified sins to
include implicitly others
that are not explicitly mentioned but that are nonetheless closely
Needless to say, there are
many degrees of anger that lie between the two extremes; more precisely
though anger is seldom holy, it is often just and therefore often not
sinful. The sin implies an
extremity of violence out of all proportion to its cause, a more or less
total loss of self-control and therefore of centrality, a momentary
suspension of all higher consciousness, whereas holy anger is as it were
an overflow of higher consciousness, a flooding of the periphery by the
The doctrine of the peccata
capitalia can be traced back as far as Seraion, who was bishop of Thmuis
in the Nile delta in the middle of the fourth century.
Having given the number of the deadly sins as eight, he enumerated
only seven, and on being asked about the eighth, he said that it was the
elementary condition of the soul under the influence of sin, the condition
symbolized by the captivity of the Israelites in Egypt.
Now, this captivity was an intermediary state between two freedoms,
and eight is in fact a symbol of the intermediate or the transitional,
which may be negative, as in this particular case, but which can also be
positive or merely neutral.
As regards what might from a
certain point of view be called its negative sense, eight has a
"mortal" effect upon "five" (man), for the number
obtained by their multiplication is forty, which in many diverse
traditions is the number of death. Moreover,
in astrology, of the twelve houses that make up the full circle of the
heavens, it is the eighth that signifies death; and in this connection we
may remember that the eighth sign of the zodiac is Scorpio, whose
hieroglyph, the letter M with a barbed final stroke, is doubly symbolic of
death, by the reason of the sting in its tail because the letter itself
stands for mors. But death is not necessarily negative, and if it be
considered as the transition from one state to another, the
"mortal" symbolism of eight may be included in the number's
overall significance as a symbol of the "intermediate," which is
what we are considering here.
Symboles Fondamentaux de la
Science Sacree, Chap. 42.
As, for example, when he
succeeds in drawing Moses and Joshua away from the very brink of the
Waters of Life (Koran 18:61-63).
The Koran here represents
Satan as tempting Adam not through Eve but directly, and in other passages
he addresses them both together.
It is unrealistic to maintain
that no one can be held responsible for anything that took place in this
world before his birth, for a man is, in a sense, his ancestry.
Less elliptically, the chain of occurrences that since the
beginning of the world has produced the particular heredity and
environment into which he is born corresponds exactly to the total
"earnings" of his previous states.
Thus even if a religion does not explicitly recognize these
previous states, that is, if it does not have the doctrine of the samsara,
reality nonetheless compels it to consider everyone as if he or she had
actually succumbed to the original temptation that brought about the
Bakr Siraj Ad-Din, The Book of Certainty (New York: Samuel Weiser, 1970),
p. 42. See also pp. 35-39.
The reference is to the methodic question that formed the basis of
the teaching of Sri Ramana Maharshi.
Not in their highest sense, as quoted by Christ and commented by
Saint Paul, but in a more relative sense, according to which they are akin
to the parable of the prodigal son. Their
original context in the Psalms (118:22) is directly though not exclusively
suggestive of this more relative interpretation:
Lord hath chastened me sore: but he hath not given me over to death.
to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, and I will praise
will praise thee: for thou hast heard me, and art become my salvation.
stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.
This “Justice" is exactly analogous to the symmetry of the
majority of the stones. On
the other hand, the lack of symmetry for which the keystone was rejected,
and which is by ordinary standards a deformity, is shown to be an
extension of celestial supraformality once this stone has taken its
rightful place at the summit of its arch which is, like the octagon we
have been considering, an architectural symbol of the threshold of Heaven.
Here lies the great danger of the spiritual path, and this is why
the esoteric methods have always been kept more or less secret, for it is
incomparably better not to set out at all than to follow the path for a
certain distance and then abandon it.
In fact, it would be no doubt true to say that no man runs the risk
of becoming a personification of one or more of the deadly sins so much as
does an initiate who breaks his pact.
Shakespeare in the Light of Sacred Art (London: Allen and Unwin),
pp. 51- 52. These last two
paragraphs were written with reference to Angelo in Measure for Measure
and to Leontes in The Winter's Tale, and there can be no doubt that in his
maturer plays Shakespeare was deeply preoccupied with the questions that
are being considered here.
The Real Deadly Sin - No Rahma (Mercy)
hadith of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (May the Blessings of Allah be upon
him and Peace) narrated by Ibn al Mubarak and translated with commentary
by Murshid F.A Ali ElSenossi.
This hadith is well known within the teachings of Tasawwuf.
Allah says in the Holy Quran (21:107)
“We did not send thee (Oh, Muhammad) except as a Mercy for all
creations”. There is no
human being that walked upon this earth who is more caring, more loving
and more concerned about the creation and the relationship between the
Creator and the creation - there is none other that comes close to the
being of the Holy Prophet Muhammad. His
descent to the earthly realm is a mercy and his message, which was
received from the Beloved Allah, the Holy Quran, is full of mercy and
healing powers for all of humanity. His
teaching, which he implemented most highly upon himself, was full of mercy
and love. It was performed purely for the sake of the Divine Pleasure.
Everything he taught was to bring mercy. Being
the final Prophet and Messenger of Allah in itself is a great mercy.
Humanity does not need to wait any longer for the completion of the
beauty of the creations. Everything
is right here with us. The
Golden Age and the Beautiful Age are so near. All
we have to do is to open the doors of our hearts and breathe in this
wonderful gift of mercy from the Divine Essence.
May Allah give us all success!
hadith related by Ibn al Mubarak (a companion of the Holy Prophet) has
transformed the lives of millions of human beings and tells us that
everything in the universe is in a state of total and absolute harmony and
comes into existence of it’s own accord.
The great master, Imam al Ghazali has spoken at great length
regarding the maladies and sicknesses that could destroy the very fabric
of the human consciousness and in the process destroy humanity as well.
We pray and we supplicate the Beloved Allah to give us all the reality of this final
and wonderful teaching which is still unfolding itself to humanity, so
that they may succeed in achieving peace - inward and outward.
The Holy Prophet
Mu’adh bin Jabal was one of the youngest
and brightest companions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad.
He was well known for his intelligence and sincere practice of
Islam. Mu’adh was given the
honour of accompanying the Holy Prophet on a walk through the city of
Medina before he was sent to the people of Yemen as their first governor
and the representative of the Holy Prophet.
He desired to fulfill this trust to the best of his ability and
asked of the Holy Prophet concerning his dealings with the people.
“Oh, Messenger of Allah, how should I deal with the people
there?” he asked. “Deal
with them according to the book of Allah, the Quran” was the given
reply. “And if I cannot
find it within the Quran?” “Then look to my practices” was the reply.
“If I cannot locate the answer there, then what should I do?”
The final answer from his Prophet was “Look to your heart, look
to your heart, look to your heart” and he touched his heart three times.
Quite some time after this instruction from
the Holy Prophet, Ibn al Mubarak narrates that a man asked Mu’adh bin
Jabal to tell him something wonderful that he heard from the Holy Prophet
of Allah. Something special
that would transform him and make him consciously aware of his
relationship with Allah.
The narration continues,
“The man said, ‘When I asked him this question, Mu’adh bin Jabal began to
cry in such a way that I thought he would never stop.
Then he let out a sigh and said “Oh, how I miss the Messenger of
Allah and how I would love to meet with him”.
Then he said to me “The Holy Prophet of Allah used to say to me
“Oh, Mu’adh, I am going to tell you something, if you commit this to
your memory and practice it, it will bring you great benefit in front of
Allah on Judgement Day.
But if you lose it, then you will be deprived
of excuse before Allah. Oh,
Mu’adh, Allah created 7 celestial bodies before He created the Heavens
and the Earth. At the gate of
each celestial body is an appointed guardian.
The Angels who are entrusted with recording the work of the
creations of Allah from the morning until the evening carried one man’s
work towards the Heavens. This
work emanated a light like that of the sun.
When it entered the earthly sky, it increased and multiplied in
value. When the Angels
arrived, they were told by the guardian of the gate, “Take this work and
throw it straight back into the face of the one who performed it.
I am the Angel and the Guardian of the Gate of Backbiting.
My Lord and Creator has commanded me not to allow anyone’s work
through which has any element of backbiting (ghiba) contained
Mu’adh went on.
“The Holy Prophet continued speaking to me and he said,
“The Scribes came with the work of another slave of Allah.
His work had the same quality of light and again was increased and
multiplied as it passed into the earthly sky.
This work was passed through the first gate and rose to the second
celestial gate. The guardian
of the gate said to them “Take this work and throw it back in the face
of it’s owner, because he did not perform this except to achieve some
worldly gain. I am the Angel
of Greatness (Fakhr) and the Guardian of this gate.
My Lord and Creator has commanded me not to allow any work which
has this quality within it to pass through.
This man used to show off and boast of his work in the gatherings
The Angels came with the work of another
slave of Allah. This work
shimmers with light and is full of wonderful acts of charity, prayer,
meditation and fasting. The
Scribes were so impressed with this work.
They pass through, straight to the third celestial gate.
The guardian of the gate says to them “Take this work and throw
it back to it’s owner as he made himself proud (Takabbur) in the
gatherings of men”.
Scribes gathered up the work of yet another slave of Allah and rose with it through the skies.
This one’s work has a luminosity like that of the celestial
bodies. It emits the sound of
praise (tasbih) and prayer, fasting, pilgrimage and visitation to
the House of Allah. The
Angels rise with this work until they reach the fourth gate.
The guardian there says to them “Stop!
Take this work and hit the face, the back and the stomach of the
owner of this work. I am the
Angel of Vanity (‘Ujub) and the Guardian of this gate and this
work is full of vanity. My
Lord and Master Allah has commanded me not to allow any work to pass which
is of this nature. This
individual has infested his actions with this negative quality”.
(Note - The hitting of the front deals with
the solar plexus. Deep within
us we know the signs of vanity. The
hitting of the back is done because of the ‘turning away’ from the
source of the actions and attributing them to ourselves, turning our backs
on the Truth.)
The work of another was carried up through
the skies with such celebration it was like the celebration upon a bride
on the night of her wedding. The
Angels brought it with a great display of power, beauty and greatness,
right to the threshold of the fifth celestial gate.
The guardian of the gate says to them “Stop!
Take this work and throw it back in the face of it’s owner.
Let him carry it upon his own neck, for I am the Angel of Envy (Hasad)
and the Guardian of this gate. This
person used to envy others and implement this envy upon his own self.
He was aware of the results of envy in others, but was blind to the
consequences of his own actions. He
has been critical of those who do good, saying that they are doing it only
to show off, while he himself was envious of their good deeds.
My Creator has commanded me not to allow this work to pass any
Angels and Scribes of the day gathered the work of another and carried it
upwards. This work is full of
prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, charity, visitation to the House of Allah and
striving and struggle in the way of Allah.
This work has a brightness like that of the sun.
It rose all the way up to the sixth gate,
where the guardian said, “Stop!
Take this work and throw it in the face of it’s owner.
This person does not have mercy in his heart towards other human
beings, particularly towards those who are sick or in difficulty.
He takes enjoyment in seeing people in terrible conditions.
This man who has invested so much in his spiritual work has come so
close, but he was not merciful or sympathetic to the creation, but used to
speak ill of them. I am the
Angel of Mercy (Rahma) and the Guardian of this gate.
My Lord and Master has commanded me not to allow any work through
which does not have the quality of Mercy contained within it”.
(Note - The quality of Mercy is a vital key
in our development as human beings - so much so that Allah speaks of it
often in His Holy word, The Quran. The
man above is described as having no mercy in his heart at all towards the
creation. The Holy Prophet Muhammad was crying at the grave of his infant son as he was being buried.
A man standing nearby was surprised and asked, “Do you cry?
I never cry”.
The Holy Prophet said to him, “The one who does not have
mercy and tenderness in his heart will be deprived of Allah’s tenderness
and His Mercy”. Another
well-known story concerns the man who was sitting in the office of the
second Caliph ‘Umar ibn al Khattab.
A letter was being dictated, appointing him governor of another
A young child came in and Sayyiduna ‘Umar picked him up and
started to kiss him. The man
said to him, ‘You kiss your children? I have ten children and I have
never kissed one of them’. At
this, ‘Umar stopped the scribe and ordered him to tear up the
He turned to the man and said to him, “A man with this
negative quality is not fit to rule over anyone or be a leader of any
person. You are not fit to
take this position” and he dismissed the man from his presence.
The Holy Prophet has said “A man will reach a state where the distance
between him and Paradise is no more than an arm’s length, when his work
will fail him and he will be thrown down”.
This particular problem we are speaking of deals with the lack of
Allah says in the Holy Quran “Call upon
Allah or call upon Rahman, by whatever Name you call upon Him, to Him
belong the most beautiful Names” (17.110).
The Merciful (Ar Rahman) is one of the most powerful Names
of Allah. Every chapter in
the Quran but one begins with ‘Bismillahi Rahman ar Raheem’.
This is His stamp upon creation.
He tells us in His word ‘My Mercy overtakes My Wrath”.
Even when He is angry at humanity for the horrible things they do
to each other, His Mercy comes and overtakes the Anger.)
Mu’adh (may Allah be pleased with him)
continued to speak:
The work of another man was presented by
the Angels. This man’s work
is full of all types of spiritual actions, prayer, conscious awareness,
fasting and meditation. The
sound emanating from it is like that of the bees and it has light like
that of the sun.
Three thousand Angels carry this work straight to the
threshold of the seventh gate. The
guardian says to them “Stop, you may not proceed any further.
Take this work and throw it back in the face of it’s owner and
punish his senses and seal his heart with this work.
I am the Guardian of the Remembrance of Allah.
I will not allow any work that is not performed purely for
the sake of Allah to pass by me. The
owner of this work has mixed it with ‘other than Allah’.
He desired prestige among the scholars and the learned and
for his name to be mentioned in the gatherings of men.
I have been commanded by my Lord not to allow his work to pass.
Any work not performed purely for the sake of Allah the Merciful is
‘showing off’ and is not acceptable to Allah”.
The Angels ascended with the work of a slave whose deeds are full of
everything good, prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, good qualities, discipline
of silence, and remembrance of Allah.
The Angels passed through the gates of all seven celestial bodies
and presented this work directly to the Hands of Allah and bore witness to
the sincerity of it.
Allah said to them “You are the scribes and guardians of the work
of My creation, but I am the Guardian and Ever Watchful
over his heart.
With this work he was not seeking My Presence and My curse shall be
upon him”. The Angels
replied, “We are cursing him as you are, oh Our Lord”.
Every creation and inhabitant of the seven heavens also curse such
a one as this.
Mu’adh started to cry again and said,
“Oh Messenger of Allah, you are a Prophet of Allah and I am but Mu’adh.
Is there no way of escape from this, no way out?”
The Holy Prophet replied, “Follow my example.
Even if there is a defect in your work, Oh Mu’adh, protect and
guard your tongue from backbiting the people of Allah, particularly those
who are carriers of the Holy Quran. Be
conscious of your own shortcomings and mistakes, carry your own problems
upon yourself, don’t load them onto anyone else or blame others for your
mistakes. Do not raise
yourself above others and do not show other people their mistakes and
defects. Be very aware of
mixing your worldly life together with your spiritual life."
- The Holy Prophet was trying to make him conscious of the separation yet
unity between the two. Sayyiduna
Abdullah ibn Omar use to pray behind an imam in the mosque.
He was asked why he prayed with him when he didn’t agree with
him. He replied that it was
to maintain the unity in the community and
because his visit to the mosque was for
Allah, not for His creation. If
harmony is achieved between the material and the spiritual life, this is
the highest luck for any person.)
The Holy Prophet continued, “Do not show off in your actions or become proud
in mixing with people so that the people will not see that you have bad
qualities. Do not speak with
one person privately and exclude another in your company.
Do not show greatness over people or you will be deprived of the
Greatness of Allah here and in the hereafter and do not backbite people
with your tongue”.
Again Mu’adh asked the Holy Prophet,
“How can one escape from this?
Who can maintain these high qualities?”
“ Oh Mu’adh, let
me tell you, it is easy for whoever Allah makes it easy for.
It will be enough for you to love for people what you love for
yourself and to hate for people what you hate for yourself.
If you perform this, Oh Mu’adh, then truly you are
The narrator (Ibn al Mubarak) says of Mu’adh
bin Jabal, “I never saw anyone who was so excessive in the recitation
of Quran as he and I never saw anyone so excessive in telling people
of this hadith as he."
The articles on the seven deadly sins on this page and the previous
have been reproduced with reference to papers at the Almiraj Sufi &
Islamic Study Centre (Murshid F.A. Ali ElSenossi); the writings of Martin
Lings and Imam al-Ghazali and The Spectator Newspaper.